An Olympian Mess?

Inevitably fears are mounting that the costs of staging the 2012 Olympic Games are spiralling out of control. To its credit, the Olympic Devlivery Authority has brought in private sector experts to help them manage the project. However, the inevitable political infighting within government, with everyone and anyone remotely associated with the Olympics seeing it as a gravy train, means that the project is seriously in danger of running over budget and behind time. When will we need to start getting used to the idea of a 2013 Games?

Identity Crisis?

So, the Guardian claims to have successfully cracked the encryption of the prototype new ID cards[don't seem to be able to add the link today].

Everything from the dubious justification, through to the inherent dangers of allowing the publuc sector to take on a project of this scale, suggests that this policy is doomed to failure. The sooner the Government announces a proper review, the better.

Deal or no deal

The Government has interfered with the flotation of KBR, a subsidary of Halliburton, that operates the Devonport Dockyard, western Europe's largest naval port. MoD is not happy with the sell-off of KBR on grounds that it might have severe strategic/security implications. The Government has warned Halliburton that it might lose the Dockyard if the company will not delay the launch.

Nanny state

The children's minister Beverley Hughes announced today that parents that do not read and sing for their children will be helped to do so. New parenting centres will be opening from next year to give parents advice. The minister says that singing and reading will give children a "flying start" and will imporve their wellbeing and intellect. This might be true but do we really need the government to point this out and to establish such advice centres? 

"Hard-up" Defra

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has underspent its budget by almost £750 million since it was formed in 2001. The Telegraph describes the deprtment as "hard-up" and mentions that due to cutting £200 million from its budget to cover the levies imposed by the EU for the late payment of agricultural subsidies, Defra has decreased spending in other areas, like coastal defence schemes.

The CBI - cheerleader for government intervention, promoter of vested interests, or both?

According to their website, the CBI's mission is:

"to help create and sustain the conditions in which businesses in the United Kingdom can compete and prosper for the benefit of all"

and their policy is:

"decided by our members – senior professionals from all sectors and sizes of business are directly involved in the policy-making process"

In the experience of this author, the CBI are now complicit in the government's ever-expanding intervention in the economy, and listen only to their bigger members. A recent exchange of correspondence seemed to illustrate this attitude. It is repeated below - decide for yourselves.

Promoting sciences

The Government has promised £75 million to universities to prevent further closure of chemistry and physics departments. The subjects are vital to the economy but it cannot be economically viable to sustain (such expensive) courses that do not attract enough students. The Government should address the problem at schools to ensure enough students will take up these important subjects.

More on Companies Bill

The Companies Bill passed on the statute book yesterday (08 Nov) and Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, said that this is the end of the road for reform. However, this seems to contradict earlier comments by Margaret Hodge, industry minister. She said that the Bill is a first step in tightening statutory controls on businesses.  More rules to the already bulky law - 1,300 clauses - could not serve the Bill's purpose of deregulation and saving companies £250 million a year.

Gordon and his 8,300 pages of tax law

According to the joint report by the World Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) British companies have to struggle with 8,300 pages of tax law, behind only India, and  the rulebook has doubled over the last decade. This is a clear sign of Gordon Brown's preference for complexity.

The Chancellor has a tendency for making even the best and seemingly straightforward ideas so complicated that they end up in a huge mess.  Most people who would benfit from these initiatives will be faced with more bureaucracy and complex procedures that many of them will give up fighting the system to gain benefits they are entitled to. The tax credit system cannot go unmentioned in this case.  

Capping regulation, not prices

The EU has confirmed that it will stick to it pledge to cap roaming prices after a survey found that 70% of Europeans want the EU to act to cut the cost of phone calls abroad. European Union Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, who put forward the idea, said that "this [high prices] hurts consumers, it hurts European industry and it hurts Europe."

9 to 5 only....

The BBC reports that the EU employment ministers are meeting this week to discuss the EU working hours law. As a EU rule, the current proposals are complicated - set normal hours, overall maximum hours and the option of opting out. If the proposal will be implemented, they will restrict labour markets. Liberal working hours promote economic growth and lowers unemployment. For example, the UK's economy has performed better than the heavily regulated French economy.

Packed with information

The Government begun the trial of its home information packs today although the key industry bodies have withdrawn their support. The trials are run by the home pack providers' trade association and the Government has provided £4 million of public funds as incentives to ensure their success. There is doubt the information encolsed will justify the cost and would meet its objective which is not yet quite clear. 

Turning green

David Miliband dismissed the rumours of increasing green taxes that would affect mainly middle-income families on BBC's Sunday AM (05 November). He said that any green taxes would have to be accommodated to the Government's overall approach to taxes and spending. 

It is clear that action must be taken to tackle climate change and the Government has committed itself to the fight against global warming. However, it has not yet fully revealed its strategy and seems to consider various options. Mr Miliband mentioned the importance of increasing spending on research and development. Would that mean more support to companies that develop technologies that are consistent with the Government's overall approach? But it is often the case that governments choose the least viable candidate and commit funding to failed projects.

Enrol here for workplace hazard course...

The HSE announced today (03 November 2006) the new workplace hazard awareness course and qualifications for young people. According to the the Chief Executive of HSE it is a "great example of how HSE, government and industry can work together to ensure that tomorrow's workforce has a sound basis for understanding the hazards that confront us every day at work."

Cooking (the EEC) with Gas

Some of the easiest carbon savings that could be made are to be found in our houses. Britain's houses are famously inefficient, belching heat (and therefore carbon) into the sky. Though the government believes it can tax people into reducing their consumption of vehicle fuels, cigarettes and tobacco, it does not hold the same view of domestic energy.

Instead, it asks the major energy suppliers (companies like British Gas, Eon, RWE, EdF, Scottish & Southern etc.) to help it reduce domestic energy consumption, in a scheme called the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC). That is asking the wolves to guard the sheep. Does it really think the energy suppliers are going to do their best to get their customers to use less of their products?

Threat to privacy

The Guardian writes on its front page on how personal medical records are to be uploaded regardless of patients' wishes to a central national database which can be accessed by a huge number of NHS staff and from where the information can be made available to police and security services There is also a lack of safeguards once a patient's data is saved to the system.

Picking winners

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)  today announced that the Technology Strategy Board will become independent and it will take over the funding of the £178m Technology Programme next year. The new board will fund industry R&D projects, advise Government and help UK businesses to take up new innovative technologies. The DTI also announce a further £50 million funding for technology and innovation.

Good intentions?

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has revealed that it wants to cut its "conduct of business" rulebook, which covers the advertising and marketing of financial products, and the provision of information and advice to clients, from 700 pages to 370. The news is welcomed, but somehow it has taken the FSA more than five years from its establishment to produce a first proposal for reform.

The costly and prescriptive regulation has had a damaging effect on the financial services industry and it is likely that this will stay so for some years to come. It will take at least a couple of years to implement the new proposals and it is not yet clear if they will actually improve the current situation. The FSA announced it wants to move towards principles-based framework but this could easily leave room for different interpretations and to more confusion as to what and to what extent needs to be applied to individual businesses.